It’s hard to imagine the prototypical narcissist without his bragging style and grandiose pronouncements. And yet. There isn’t merely one type of narcissist. Do some narcissists exhibit a lack of social skill?
For all their reputation as smooth operators, many narcissists are actually quite awkward, introverted, and inept at social interactions. Here are some typical characteristics, but there’s more to the story.
While the popular image of the narcissist—an alpha male type with an abundance of charm—remains the ascendant cultural stereotype, there are many other manifestations of narcissism.
In addition, the popular notion that the narcissist is actually as arrogant and superior as he presents himself to the public isn’t necessarily the case. That boastful behavior is often covering over deficiencies in self-esteem and confidence.
Continue reading for an explanation of how narcissists can actually be shy and unsure of themselves and how our view of narcissism has changed as society has.
Meet the Many Narcissists
Of course, we are aware that the grandiose narcissist exists. Usually male, this egocentric and self-aggrandizing individual sucks up all the energy in a room. However, underneath this braggart’s exterior, he is almost certainly an insecure, uncertain, and fearful person. If any of his weaknesses are revealed, his ability to interact with confidence is shaken.
Thus, while the typical narcissist turns on the charm and appears to be very much at ease in any given social situation, he isn’t always as comfortable as he appears. When he is challenged by a worthy competitor or caught out in a web of deceit, that charm turns to anger, even rage, and hampers his ability to communicate and control his audience. Underneath the charismatic exterior resides an insecure, indecisive, and unsure soul.
There are also various other types of narcissists who are not primarily focused on their appearance, their popularity, or their material success. For example, some narcissists feed off their own acts of generosity to get their narcissistic supply of attention and admiration. These “communal” narcissists will dedicate their lives to helping others—and have no problem in telling you of their many sacrifices.
They will claim that they are the most generous individual they’ve ever known, or that they will be remembered for their good deeds. These types of narcissists aren’t necessarily notable for their social skill. While they are good at organizing and self-promotion, they aren’t truly focused on charming their way through a social interaction. They aggrandize their self-sacrifice.
Covert Narcissism and Introversion
There is also the covert, or vulnerable, narcissist, who is typically a female. She will be self-effacing, sometimes to the extreme, and complain that she is misunderstood and mistreated. She is often seen as shy and humble, which masks her frustrations and grudges.
Indeed, covert narcissists are often introverts, preferring not to stand out in a crowd. They can be extremely self-conscious and socially awkward, because they have deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and shame. At the same time, they cover over that shame with passive-aggressive manipulation and grandiose fantasies. “If only the world weren’t out to get me,” they think, “I’d be rich or famous or powerful.”
So, narcissism doesn’t always fit neatly into what we’ve come to view as narcissistic behavior through the lens of popular culture. Still, all types of narcissist have one fundamental desire in common, which is the need for self-enhancement. They all believe themselves to be special, to be slightly apart from and above the general fray. This belief hides their unstable and insecure sense of self.
Links to Other Disorders
Narcissism is also linked to depression and anxiety, two disorders that are marked by socially awkward or withdrawn behavior. Depressed individuals retreat from social life when actively experiencing a down period, while anxious individuals avoid social interactions because it activates their feelings of unease.
Depression is most often connected with grandiose narcissists, who suffer from bouts of depression when their narcissistic fantasies clash with reality. When their carefully cultivated self-image is dented by failure—the breakup of a relationship, say, or the loss of a job—then they are thrown into a deep depression. During these periods, the grandiose narcissist also loses his narcissistic supply of attention which can further exacerbate the condition.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is associated with covert narcissism. The cover narcissist’s tendency to fret over her lot in life coupled with her intense fears of inadequacy serve to fuel a constant state of anxiety. They fear being exposed for the fraudulent person that they’ve created.
While depression is often about mourning the past, anxiety is often about worry for the future. Covert narcissists tend to avoid social scenarios where they might be in the spotlight. There is too much pressure and worry regarding her performance.
It’s also helpful to be able to distinguish narcissism from other personality disorders. Check out this post for more insight on the subject.
As society goes, so does narcissism. That is, over the past couple of decades, the rise of social media and technology in general, coupled with a competitive job market and erratic economy, have created a generation of people who are often accused of being inherently narcissistic.
Millennials are often leveled with this criticism, yet their behavior is only reflective of social trends. They didn’t create the technology that’s led to a flood of selfies and carefully cropped images on social media. They didn’t start the trend of requiring extensive LinkedIn profiles and a polished internet presence. They are only marketing themselves in response to new social cues and norms.
Thus, one could argue that these social trends have generated a culture of narcissism, wherein our images must be carefully constructed and maintained. Social interactions are increasingly occurring in an online arena, rather than in person, so the ability to charm an audience might be exchanged for the ability to create a polished persona.
Yes, narcissists can be socially awkward, for a variety of reasons. Grandiose narcissists lose their charm when confronted with exposure or loss. Communal narcissists don’t necessarily seek social approval. And covert narcissists are typically self-effacing and anxious in social settings.
There are also underlying social trends that are changing the ways in which we notice and understand narcissistic behaviors. These trends might be nudging us all to cultivate our images more thoughtfully and with our self-interest in mind. We might all have self-confident avatars—and isn’t this as good a definition of narcissism as any?—as our ability to interact with confidence in social scenarios is diminished.
To better understand if your awkward friend is really a narcissist, check out this article for more insight.
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